Are UK managers falling behind their global counterparts?

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The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Management’s (APPGM) Commission on the Future of Management and Leadership has warned that the UK is facing a management time bomb; where short-sighted behaviour is threatening the country’s global competitiveness.

With a projected demand for one million new managers by 2020, the Commission's recent report argues that 71% of those currently in managerial roles feel underqualified. This lack of development of management skills, whether actual or perceived, could continue unless companies define long-term goals and ensure managers are trained.

One explanation may be that as the economy recovered, too many leaders were required to drive economic growth with little or no training. In addition, organisations were wary of investing in training and development while balance sheets remained weak. A focus on day-to-day operations means today’s managers may lack experience of strategic planning.

The aftermath of an event as cataclysmic as the global recession presents the perfect opportunity to highlight good management techniques and practices. In particular, we can pinpoint any skills deficit, identify what is needed to ensure international levels of excellence, and recognise where we can learn from our counterparts across the globe.

In the five years since the world economy slumped to unprecedented levels, a new take on management – distributed leadership – has emerged, whereby power in an organisation is distributed at all levels, engineering a common goal and shared values. Global giants such as Google, Procter and Gamble and Cisco are well known for adopting this shared and collaborative approach to management. Consequently, with more managers in power, the need for specific management competences such as decision-making, interpersonal skills, conceptual thinking, global awareness and being digitally savvy has become crucial.

Agility is another skill vital to success. This is demonstrated by the ability to adapt to real-time challenges brought on by the advances of technology and social media, which often include the instant and very public backlash for mistakes and misdemeanours. The post-recession, digital-age manager also needs to show ambidexterity – the ability to manage the core business while also exploring and exploiting new business opportunities. Technical competence alone is no longer sufficient for C-level positions.

To become a successful transformational leader in the context of globalisation, corporate social responsibility and innovation requires a balance of technical and soft skills that allow managers to engage and motivate staff. Many professionals are therefore seeking to obtain the necessary tools and skills outside their organisation.

What examining management trends on a global scale has shown more than anything is the need for management training and personal development regardless of the route taken, and the importance of learning from other international regions. Bad management has far-reaching and long-lasting effects on the success of business and myopic management is a threat, irrespective of geographical location.

However, organisations should take comfort from knowing that professional development opportunities exist for managers at all levels; including those at the helm who may be perpetuating the preventable cycle.

Dr Claire Moxham is director of studies for the online management programmes at the University of Liverpool

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